Just before Christmas, I spent a large amount of time at a beautiful vineyard, known as Three Choirs, where I was working in their winery. During my time there I delved into the artistry and science that surrounds winemaking. But what struck me was that a lot of skills needed for tea blending and tastings are transferable. Therefore, throughout this blog, I will be sharing the similarities and key difference that you need to consider when conducting tastings for tea or for wine.
Something that is the same across the two very different beverages as the actual motion of the tasting. Tea tasting and drinking tea in a casual setting or even over afternoon tea are very different, therefore, here is a quick 5 step guide for tea tasting and I will go over the differences for wine in a moment.
- When conducting tea tasting professionally a deep spoon is filled with the tea.
- The next step is slurping. Despite it not seeming very dignified the addition of the air with the tea allows it to hit your palette stronger than when sipping normally.
- Allow the tea roll around the tongue for a few seconds to depict an accurate picture of all the flavour notes.
- The last step is just as unladylike as the second because you are meant to spit the tea into a spittoon (a bucket). This is so that you can taste multiple teas without them building upon each other or the fact that you’ve become full impacting the flavour.
- Each of these steps can be repeated as many time as the tasters believe necessary in order to gain an accurate representation of all the flavour notes.
The most glaringly obvious difference between wine and tea tasting is the fact that tea is served in a cup and wine in a glass. For that reason, I thought I should share with you, something you probably already knew but I personally learnt very recently and can change the dynamics in the wine. This is the fact that white wine glasses should be held by the wine stalk so that the wine does not heat up, whereas red wine should be cupped in your hand in order to key the wine at room temperature.
Secondly, when wine tasting a spoon is not necessary. As you probably gathered. But, one aspect of wine tasting that is not seen as that relevant in tea is smelling the aroma, this done by first swirling the glass in order to release a number of aroma compounds into the air. By testing the bouquet (smell) of the wine it can give you hints as to the taste, this can be the fruitiness from the berry’s or the roasted nuts from the oak barrels if aged.
Now the most crucial difference between wine and tea tasting is the flavour notes. Each individual wine or tea is incredibly different and I could spend a whole book describing each one, therefore, for this blog I will be describing the flavour notes to look for in wine so that you can become a wine connoisseur. Shock horror I know not talking about tea.
The moment the wine hits your tongue there are 5 main factors to take into account the sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol and body.
The grape suss (or juice) that is turned into the wine is packed full of its own sugars, however, in order to increase the alcohol content of a wine an extra amount of sugar is added along with the yeast. Plus, during the bottling process, there is the opportunity for the winemaker to add a small portion of suss reserve for an additional bit of sweetness. This can happen even in dry wines so that they feel more full-bodied.
If there this sweetness will be the first part of the wine to hit the tip of your tongue, this can translate to a slight tingling or oily sensation that lingers.
Acidity can mislead a number of other factors as a wine with high acidity will taste less sweet or light-bodied than wine with the same amount of sugar but less acidity. This is because its what enables the wine to taste tart or zesty.
An accurate description is the same mouth-feel as if you bit into a tart apple. There is a tingling sensation that focuses along the sides and front of your tongue; you start to salivate slightly; plus, there’s a slight gravelly feel if you rub your tongue across the roof of your mouth.
When considering tannins its important to understand these are the phenolic compounds, found in the skins and seeds of grapes, that add bitterness to wine and are what contain the health benefits associated with red wine.
The astringency and bitterness on the front inside of your mouth as well as along the side of the tongue are due to the tannin content. It can also leave a lingering bitterness or dry feel in the mouth after swallowing. Tannins can sometimes be confused with dryness as it tends to dry out the tongue.
Now alcohol can be both easy and hard to taste this is because the average glass of wine contains around 11-13% and tends to stay in this ballpark. But can still range from 5.5-20%, including some fortified wine.
An easy indicate is how much the wine warms your throat, the more it warms like brandy, the more alcohol. The wines the higher alcohol contents tend to also taste bolder and more oily whilst those within the lower alcohol range have a lighter body.
The final characteristic is the body, which can be split easily into 3, light, medium and full-bodied. This body is a result of a combination of factors from wine variety to alcohol level. Body is the overall impression of wine left in your mouth. Therefore, learning more about the vineyard from which the wine originates including vintage and how its made can improve this skill massively.
How it rests or the weight on your palette is key to discovering a wine’s body. The simplest way to determine which of the 3 your wines is to describe whether the wine feels like skimmed milk, whole milk or cream, as its swished around your mouth.
Don’t forget to have some tea on me.